Sunday, 10 March 2013

Alternate Best Actor 1949: Toshiro Mifune in The Quiet Duel

Toshiro Mifune did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Dr. Kyoji Fujisaki in The Quiet Duel.

The Quiet Duel tells the story of a doctor who accidentally contracts Syphilis from a patient he was working on and refuses his bride to be because of his refusal to pass on the disease. This film is definitely melodramatic but Akira Kurosawa knows how to present this type of story in an effective fashion.

Watching this film now pretty much has secured Toshiro Mifune a place as one of my favorite actors. Although I loved his performances in Throne of Blood and the Seven Samurai which where each an incredible display of exactly how to handle a flamboyant and loud performance. It did leave me wondering if Mifune could be as successful as a quiet man as loud one. Well Mifune certainly takes on a different role here from the crazed wannabe samurai or the vicious ambitious general. Here he plays for all practical purposes just a pretty normal doctor who there is not anything particularly special about.

Mifune plays the doctor with a decidedly quiet approach which is a far cry in style from the later leading performances I have reviewed so far. At the beginning of the film we see the doctor as a hard working man who is just going about his duty which is to tirelessly treat those wounded from the war. During an operation on one soldier he accidentally nicks his finger on a scalpel and his finger is drenched with the blood of the man. Mifune is excellent in these scenes as the doctor inquires about the disease of the soldier. Mifune very much underplays the horror in the doctor as he finds out he has it. Mifune though makes it powerful by the way he shows the underlying horror in his subtle expression.

Mifune through the middle portion of the film stays consistent in his portrayal of the doctor who is such a good man that he refuses to pass on his disease, nor does he really directly express anger against the man who gave him this problem. Mifune as very effective in bringing to life the nobility of the doctor. He never makes it seem forced at all, he is able to achieve it naturally through his consistent approach as the doctor. He is entirely natural in his portrayal of the goodness of the doctor, and it really works because how unassuming Mifune plays it. He doesn't ever impress it really ever, but instead Toshiro Mifune brings it inward through his portrayal as something that is a quiet determination.

The central power of the film lies in the sacrifice that the doctor makes to stay as a descent person no matter how much he will suffer. Mifune brings the weight through the intensity of his performance which is just incredible to watch through the way he redirects in an internal rather than an external fashion here. He conveys the passion of the doctor to do the right thing so powerfully. He makes this determination vivid and always remarkable particularly in his scenes where he is forced to openly discuss why he refuses to marry the woman he loves. Mifune is excellent in these scenes showing the pains and sorrow in his eyes well making it clear that he is repressing a ocean of emotions to keep himself together as he rejects happiness.

Mifune keeps his performance very much like a dormant volcano as, yet manages to pull out the emotional strength of each and every scene he appears in the film. He builds on this repression beautifully to one scene late in the film when he is pressured to talk about his true feelings and they finally come out full force. Mifune is magnificent in this scene. He absolutely earns the moment through the restraint shown before, as well as the fact his expression here is still reserved to a degree so it is fitting for the doctor. Mifune is absolutely heartbreaking in this scene as he portrays the full extent of the damage that the doctor has suffered. It is a very moving moment as we see a man who has never complained before about his lot finally truly open up.

This is a great performance by Mifune and it is especially stunning when compared to his later more flamboyant work. Mifune, like all of the greats, proves himself adept at both being expressive outwardly and inwardly. He proves himself capable of being just as compelling as a doctor with such a small scale human struggle as he was in an epic struggle between good and evil in the Seven Samurai. He makes the doctor an effective lead with a measured charm, and an appropriate passion that makes his struggle believable. This is a terrific performance that creates this low key struggle beautifully in his performance and manages to avoid the stilted quality so common in lesser melodramas.


nick wingerter said...

Great , I loved him. In my top 10 Favorite actors.

Michael Patison said...

What would your ranking of your favorite lead and supporting actors be now?

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

Again, 1963, High and Low. A fairly restrained and beautifully human performance from him.

RatedRStar said...

ive got him on my ballot for 63 so im sure he ll get in again sometime, and why the heck did I pick James Cagney to win this when he is very limited to just gangsters and nothing else.

Louis Morgan said...

Michael: I don't want to come up with a new one just yet, I just know Mifune would be in it now. The reason is I want to see a few more key performances from actors I feel are on the cusp like Gary Oldman and Brendan Gleeson.

koook160: I'm sure I will find a place for him.

RatedRStar: Actually it looks he will be a likely nominee for several years to come.

Also don't be too hard on Cagney. He is a pretty consistent actor who does what he does very well, and actually he would probably make it pretty on high on a list of the best actors from the old Hollywood crowd.

RatedRStar said...

Cagney reminds me of Harrison Ford in that he is fine at what he does, but is only fine, never amazing or truly legendary, I feel there are others who deserve legend status that never got it in them days.

houndtang said...

Cagney I suppose had a fairly limited range but stars in those days didn't need wide ranges - they traded on their established personas and did what they did well. Another great role for him is Billy Wilder's One, Two, Three